Taking the lead: The Muslim anti-terror alliance
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/December 16/15
Even the Germans, who have since World War II adopted a policy of avoiding wars, have decided to engage in the battle against terrorist organizations and send a military force to Syria. Prior to this, the Russians had declared they would get involved in Syria, thus daring to impose their political vision on the region and the world. Due to this international and regional vacuum, certain countries have decided to act against terrorist organizations that consider themselves Muslim, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The damage these groups cause is no longer limited to conflict zones, as extremism and terrorism have become a threat to Muslims and the international community. We are glad that Riyadh, the capital of the Muslim world, has taken the initiative amid this vacuum, and to fight this germ that is spreading quickly on all continents. The world’s primary enemy today is the terrorism of Islamist organizations. It is very important that action is taken, and that we do not let others assume our responsibilities, thus allowing them to decide and draw the world’s political and ideological map. For example, we will not agree with Russia on the categorization of terrorists, and we will not accept the sectarian categorization that we have been recently hearing from Washington. It is impossible to sit on the sidelines and watch as each party claims it is the one that will fight terrorist organizations in the region and the world.
The good thing about this Muslim anti-terror alliance, announced by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is that it is not simply an idea or suggestion, but an integrated project. So far, 34 out of 52 Muslim countries have joined. Therefore, the first military alliance of Muslim countries – which can say they are the legitimate ones to fight groups that use Islam to spread chaos and threaten societies – has been born. Saudi Arabia’s success in establishing this alliance is an important development that is based on international legitimacy and will produce major results. It is a must to move forward and not yield to others. Saudi Arabia’s success in establishing this alliance is an important development that is based on international legitimacy and will produce major results. Iran has tried to establish a grouping that represents it in its war in Syria and Iraq, but it failed because its project was hostile and sectarian. In the end, it turned out to be a gathering for militias, not states. There are plenty of things the Riyadh-based alliance can do, but I do not believe it will fight other countries’ wars if they do not ask for help. If Egypt desires, it will get military support to confront armed extremist groups in Sinai.
The coalition will also help if international organizations such as the United Nations, or regional ones such as the Arab League, seek its assistance to fight terrorism in countries where there is no legitimacy such as Libya and Syria, or where legitimacy is weak such as in Yemen and Mali.
Saudi Arabia’s anti-terror alliance is collective self-defense
Andrew Bowen/Al Arabiya/December 16/15
Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s announcement that Saudi Arabia will lead a global coalition of 34 nations to combat extremism is a significant step in international counter-terrorism efforts to roll back terrorism’s cancerous spread. This Coalition is critically a military grouping and was founded on the principle of collective self-defense, along the lines of organizations such as NATO which have guaranteed European security since the end of the Second World War. This Coalition’s scope appears to be truly global- not limiting itself to challenges in the Middle East and North Africa. Instead, this Coalition will address terrorist threats ranging from Afghanistan to security in Africa and in South Asia. For example, Gabon is a member of the Coalition. It’s not only ISIS on the radar of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but Boko Haram and al-Qaeda and its worldwide affiliates.
A first in history
Riyadh’s focus underscores an important difference from Washington’s focus, which is predominantly on building a coalition against ISIS. Without confronting the broader challenges of Islamic extremism worldwide, ISIS and any successor organization will continue to gain recruits and Riyadh recognizes this.
Importantly, a military coalition of this size (the first in its history), led by Saudi Arabia, carries more legitimacy than purely another U.S. and Western lead counter-terrorism intervention in the Muslim world. In the long-term, this Coalition, has a better chance at winning the hearts of minds of those who have turned towards terrorism.
New leadership for common challenges
Prince Mohammed has taken substantial steps to put Saudi Arabia and its partners on stronger footing to confront growing security challenges both from Iran and its growing regional proxies and extremist groups. Importantly, the Yemen campaign highlights the new emerging defense architecture that King Salman has been building since he took office. This Coalition, which took months of careful diplomacy, is a further step. Nearing the anniversary of King Salman’s rule, this global coalition of nations represents both Riyadh’s new leadership and the recognition that these challenges require new, innovative, and robust solutions
With Washington’s perceived re-balancing to Asia and pull back (most notably, the President’s own retreat on his “red lines” regarding Syria), Riyadh couldn’t wait anymore for Obama to deliver on the rhetorical promises he has made and broken at times, including most recently at Camp David. Prince Mohammed recognizes that the Muslim world is in the best position to confront these challenges. At the same time, the Deputy Crown Prince believes in the importance of working with global powers and international organizations. In his final months in office, President Obama has an opportunity to follow through on his commitments. He should move quickly to bolster his support for the Coalition including deepening military assistance and broadening intelligence sharing.
A number of challenges on the horizon
The challenges the Coalition faces are great. It will have to robustly address the civil war in Syria, ISIS, Libya, Yemen, to name a few regional challenges. More broadly, groups such as Boko Haram continue to plague the stability and security of West Africa.
While this is first and foremost a military coalition, the Coalition will need to pair a military strategy with a sustainable political and economic strategy to both rebuild societies torn apart by war and conflict and to support states struggling with their own socio-economic, political, and security challenges. Riyadh can play a unique role in marshaling international economic investment to ensure that these gains are sustained. While Iran has been a source of deepening sectarianism in the region and beyond, it would be a mistake to allow Iran to cast this new coalition as purely a Sunni sectarian military coalition. Extremist groups profit the most on decisive sectarian rhetoric. It’s critical then that this Coalition remains diplomatically engaged in bringing an end to Syria’s civil war, but more broadly, addressing challenges such as Lebanon, which require sustained diplomatic engagement with opponents. Ideally, Tehran can move from posture of confrontation and antagonism to one of engagement and cooperation. Nearing the anniversary of King Salman’s rule, this global coalition of nations represents both Riyadh’s new leadership and the recognition that these challenges require new, innovative, and robust solutions. Importantly, for this Coalition to succeed, all members will need to contribute.
Russia’s plan for Syria is troubling for Turkey
Mahir Zeynalov/Al Arabiya/December 16/15
Russia has significantly stepped up its role in Syria since the downing of its warplane by Turkey. Ankara’s Western allies have urged both nations to de-escalate the situation. The downing of the jet for violating Turkish airspace for just 17 seconds outraged President Vladimir Putin, who has ambitions to restore a glorified Russia. Since the incident, Russian TV networks have launched a massive smear campaign against Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with allegations of corruption and government ties to radical groups in Syria. Russian leaders ludicrously claim that Turkey shot down the plane to continue benefiting from oil trading with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Moscow has reportedly disrupted by destroying the group’s trucks.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went to Moscow on Tuesday to discuss Russia’s increased role in Syria, while U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Ankara to hold talks on Syria and the fight against ISIS. Russia will not directly attack Turkey, a NATO member, but will wage a war against its regional interests. The Syrian case is particularly troubling for Turkey and its Western allies, which have so far zigzagged to avoid the Syrian quagmire. As good diplomatic relations and commercial ties between Russia and Turkey have collapsed since the jet incident, Moscow is now waging a war against Turkish interests in the region.
In Syria, Russia is especially focused on taking over the narrow Azaz corridor, which has long been a lifeline for anti-regime forces backed by Turkey. Since the downing of the jet, Russian warplanes have intensified the air campaign on the Turkish border, striking Turkmen forces backed and armed by Turkey.
Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, wrote in an article published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) that Syrian rebels have been struggling to hold onto this strip of territory between the northern border town of Azaz and Aleppo. He said the corridor now faces imminent threats from the east by ISIS, from the west by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), and from the south by the Syrian army and its allies. Balanche said the corridor has become “the epicenter of the war,” with hostilities intensifying over the past two weeks. He noted that a Kurdish offensive supported by Russian airstrikes is underway to the west, coordinated with a developing campaign by the Syrian army and proxy militias on the outskirts of Aleppo. “The prospect of direct Turkish intervention looms over the fighting, especially if the corridor should fall,” Balanche wrote.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union threw its weight behind the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist rebel group, to fight against the Turkish state. As good diplomatic relations and commercial ties between Russia and Turkey have collapsed since the jet incident, Moscow is now waging a similar war against Turkish interests in the region. Last month, Russia announced the deployment of S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems in northern Syria, gaining the ability to shoot down Turkish aircraft. It also dashes hopes for the creation of a no-fly zone that could be used as a springboard for a wider war against the Syrian regime and ISIS. Ankara has made clear that any attempt by Kurds to cross into the western bank of the Euphrates river will be met with force. Kurds, feeling abandoned by Washington due to Turkish pressure, may exploit the row between Ankara and Moscow to advance further west. If Kurdish YPG militias, backed by Russian airstrikes, can link up to their brethren in Afrin region, Turkey’s entire access to Syria will be shut. The jet incident was an opportunity for Putin to whip up anti-Turkish public sentiment, and garner domestic support for his adventure in Syria. Few things could be better for Russia than making sure Kurds control the Turkish-Syrian border, the Azaz corridor is closed to rebels, and regime forces regain the upper hand in Aleppo. With the regime emboldened, Assad will have a stronger hand in any future diplomacy to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.